JFK will be remembered for saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you…” FDR is remembered in the words, “… a date that will live in infamy.” For Ronald Reagan, it was, “…tear down this wall!” For Bill Clinton: “It depends on what the meaning of the word, is, is.” Doesn’t quite rise to the same level of dignity and inspiration, but Bill was on to something. There are times when a tiny word makes a huge difference. Like the word, “is” in this quote from Jesus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
In the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus holds out eight promises. Mourners will be comforted, the merciful will be shown mercy, etc. But the first and last promises aren’t “will be” promises, they are “is” promises. Which means, at least in some measure, they matter right now!
The first promise is for those who are “poor in spirit” (For more about what that means, see: Winning in Last Place). Those who are spiritually bankrupt and who know it, who come to Jesus with nothing to offer, are promised the kingdom of heaven now. In the present tense.
Which means, most of what people know about heaven is wrong.
1. Heaven is not merely that “better place” Aunt Sally went to be after her terrible accident at the car wash. The kingdom of heaven is available now.
2. Entrance to heaven is not determined by how good you have been. The kingdom of heaven is open to those who are “poor in spirit.”
Here’s the not-so-fine print: By definition, a kingdom has a king. People in kingdoms have submitted to the king. In this case, the King is Jesus. Once you understand that Jesus is Almighty God, that He loved you so much, He lowered Himself to come for you in human form and die to pay for your sin – once you really grasp that reality – it is logical to acknowledge that He is your King.
People who think they can join the kingdom because they have been good, are not “poor in spirit,” and don’t understand that a kingdom only has one king.
However, those who enter the kingdom of heaven now have not yet experienced the full measure of how wonderful it will be one day. People who surrender to King Jesus, are blessed now in His kingdom, and receive the Holy Spirit, living eternally in their souls – all right now.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
But they still live in this darkened, corrupted world where they will have trouble.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The “poor in spirit,” who submit to King Jesus, have the kingdom of heaven “already but not yet.” The full experience and glory of the Kingdom of Heaven will not be realized until Jesus is universally accepted as the King. We yearn for that day but cannot begin to fully imagine what it will be like. We are like children born in refugee camps who have no way to imagine life on a cruise ship. We have no capacity to imagine the full experience of heaven. Not yet.
However, right now, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.